Non-Conference Challenges Await 'Hoos
Sept. 13, 2016
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Stern tests await the University of Virginia men’s basketball team in its eighth season under head coach Tony Bennett, and plenty of them, including a showdown with reigning NCAA champion Villanova.
The ACC released the 2016-17 schedules of its 15 teams on Monday, about two months before the start of the season.
UVA, which advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight in 2015-16, will play 30 regular-season games, including 12 against non-conference opponents, and challenges abound for a team that lost such players as Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte.
`It’s very similar to what we’ve tried to do in the last couple of years,” Bennett said in a Facebook Live interview Monday, “play pretty much as challenging a non-conference schedule as possible … I think it prepares you [for ACC play].”
The Wahoos, who won the Charleston (S.C.) Classic last year, will again play in an early-season tournament, this one the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Fla.
“High-level athletes, high-level talent,” Bennett said. “It’s a good tournament, and I like it. You just want quality opponents on a neutral site.”
Out of conference, the Cavaliers’ most intriguing game figures to be their Jan. 29 date with Villanova in Philadelphia. This is a rematch of the teams’ clash last season at John Paul Jones Arena, where Virginia prevailed 86-75 on Dec. 19.
“I think it should be at our place again,” Bennett said, laughing. “I think we should play Villanova at home. I don’t think we should have to go on the road. They won the national championship.”
VirginiaSports.com will break down the Wahoos’ ACC schedule closer to the start of the season. Here’s a look at UVA’s non-conference opponents, in the order in which they appear on the schedule:
* UNC Greensboro (Nov. 11 in Greensboro, N.C.) — 2015-16: 15-19 overall.
The Spartans, whose head coach is former North Carolina guard Wes Miller, have four of their top five scorers back from last season, led by 6-3 guard Francis Alonso (13 ppg). Other veterans include 6-0 guard Diante Baldwin, who led UNCG in assists and steals in 2015-16.
This will be the first meeting between these schools in men’s basketball and the season opener for both teams.
* St. Francis, N.Y. (Nov. 15 at JPJ) — 2015-16: 15-17 overall.
This is another new opponent for Virginia. The Terriers lost most of the firepower from a team that finished tied for second in the Northeast Conference last season. Their top returning scorer is sophomore guard Glenn Sanabria, who played in only six games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
St. Francis, whose campus is in Brooklyn, will need such newcomers as freshman Gianni Ford and junior-college transfer Darelle Porter to contribute immediately.
* Yale (Nov. 20 at JPJ) — 2015-16: 23-7 overall, NCAA second round.
Graduation stripped the Bulldogs of many of their 2015-16 standouts, including Brandon Sherrod, Nick Victor and Justin Sears, the only two-time Ivy League player of the year in program history. Yale coach James Jones will rebuild around sophomore guard Makai Mason, who averaged 16 points last season.
Virginia leads this series 2-1. The teams haven’t met since the 1975-76 season.
* Grambling State (Nov. 22 at JPJ) — 2015-16: 7-24 overall.
The Tigers are led by sophomore guard Nigel Ribeiro, a graduate of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake.
Ribeiro, the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s freshman of the year in 2015-16, had 15 points and six rebounds in Grambling State’s 87-52 loss to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last season. The Tigers will look to seniors Deonte Hearns, Ervin Mitchell and Remond Brown for production and leadership.
Virginia is 1-0 against Grambling State, which played at University Hall in December 2001.
* Iowa (Nov. 25 in Destin, Fla.) — 2015-16: 22-11 overall, NCAA second round.
At the end of last season, the Hawkeyes bid good-bye to four seniors who combined for 392 career starts, including guard Mike Gesell and big men Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury. Veteran coach Fran McCaffery’s top returning player is 6-6 senior Peter Jok, who averaged 16.1 points last season.
This game — only the third in a series that’s tied 1-1 — will be part of the Emerald Coast Classic. UVA will meet Memphis or Providence on Nov. 26 in Destin.
* Memphis/Providence (Nov. 26 in Destin, Fla.)
The Tigers finished 19-15 in their final season under Josh Pastner, who’s now the head coach at Georgia Tech. His successor in Memphis is the highly respected Tubby Smith, who won an NCAA title at Kentucky. The Tigers’ returning players include the Lawson brothers: Dedric, a 6-9 sophomore, and K.J., a 6-7 sophomore. Dedric averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds last season.
Virginia’s most accomplished post player, redshirt junior Austin Nichols, began his college career at Memphis. The 6-9 Nichols transferred to UVA after his sophomore season and sat out 2015-16.
Providence posted a 24-11 record and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s second round last seeason. The stars of that team, guard Kris Dunn (16.3 ppg, 6.4 apg) and forward Ben Bentil (21.2 ppg), are now pursuing NBA careers. The Friars’ top returning player is 6-8, 225-pound junior Rodney Bullock (11.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg), a former standout at Kecoughtan High School in Hampton.
Virginia is 1-0 against Memphis. UVA’s series with Providence is tied 3-3.
* Ohio State (Nov. 30 at JPJ) — 2015-16: 21-14 overall, NIT second round.
This game is part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Buckeyes’ string of seven straight NCAA tournament appearances ended last season, but a return to form appears likely in 2016-17. Ohio State’s top six scorers from 2015-16 are back, led by 6-8 senior Marc Loving (14 ppg) and 6-7 junior Keita Bates-Diop (11.8 ppg).
In last year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Virginia won 64-58 in Columbus to trim Ohio State’s series lead to 3-2.
* West Virginia (Dec. 3 at JPJ) — 2015-16: 26-9 overall, NCAA first round.
In last year’s Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, Virginia solved the Mountaineers’ full-court pressure in the second half and rallied for a 70-54 victory.
From that WVU team, head coach Bob Huggins returns four starters, including Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., guards who combined for 105 steals in 2015-16.
Virginia leads this series 9-8. West Virginia hasn’t played in Charlottesville since Jan. 29, 1975.
* East Carolina (Dec. 6 at JPJ) — 2015-16: 12-20 overall.
This will be only the second meeting between UVA and ECU in men’s basketball. Virginia won the first 88-79 on Dec. 27, 1968, at University Hall.
The Pirates, who compete in the American Athletic Conference, are in their seventh season under head coach Jeff Lebo, who starred at North Carolina for the legendary Dean Smith. Lebo has back three players who averaged at least 10 points last season: 6-3 junior B.J. Tyson (14.6 ppg), 6-7 senior Caleb White (12.5) and 6-5 sophomore Kentrell Barkley (10.3).
Newcomers of note for ECU include graduate student Andre Washington, a 7-1 transfer from Wake Forest. Washington is a Virginian who grew up in Rocky Mount.
* Robert Morris (Dec. 17 at JPJ) — 2015-16: 10-22 overall.
In 2013, Robert Morris upset top-seeded Kentucky in the first round of the NIT, and this is a mid-major program with an excellent tradition. Last season, though, was a struggle for the Colonials, who dipped to 8-10 in the NEC, a league in which they’ve usually thrived in recent years.
The top returning scorer for Robert Morris is 6-6 sophomore Isaiah Still, who averaged 9.9 points last season. The Colonials’ other weapons include 6-7 senior Billy Giles, who grew up in the Richmond area and attended Douglas Freeman High School.
This will be the second meeting between UVA and Robert Morris. The `Hoos opened the 2004-05 season — their last under head coach Pete Gillen — with an 88-55 win over the Colonials at University Hall.
* Cal (Dec. 21 in Berkeley) — 2015-16: 23-11 overall, NCAA first round.
The Golden Bears lost Jaylen Brown to the NBA after one season, but classmate Ivan Rabb, who’s also considered an NBA lottery pick, chose to return for his sophomore year. A 6-11, 220-pound forward, Rabb averaged 12.5 points and 8.6 rebounds as a freshman. Others back for Cal include 6-6 sharpshooter Jabari Bird, who hit 41 percent of his 3-point attempts last season.
For UVA guard London Perrantes, a Los Angeles resident, this game will mark his return to his home state, and he has a history with the Bears.
Perrantes hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in overtime Dec. 22 at JPJ to lift Virginia to a 63-62 win over Cal in the first men’s basketball game between these prestigious public universities.
* Villanova (Jan. 29 in Philadelphia) — 2015-16: 35-5 overall, NCAA champion.
Many of the key players from the Wildcats’ championship run are back, among them Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Kris Jenkins, the hero of the NCAA title game.
Virginia stretched its series lead over Villanova to 5-2 with the victory at JPJ last season. The Cavaliers’ big guns in that win, though, were Brogdon and Gill, both now pursuing professional careers.
This game will be a homecoming for UVA swingman De’Andre Hunter, a freshman from Philadelphia to whom Villanova also offered a scholarship.